What is Sponsorship?
It's where a brand* uses an association with someone or something to promote its product or service, generally to supplement advertising.
Brand* - e.g. Burton, Vans, Westbeach, Oakley etc.
How does sponsorship work in snowboarding?
Brands sponsor athletes, celebrities/ ambassadors or events in general, where they basically provide product and or money in return for exposure of the brand name or its product to the consumer whether it is through the Media (TV, Publications, and Radio etc) or through audiences. The prestige of an event or the profile of an athlete will influence any investment from the Brand.
How do I get sponsored?
To be sponsored is to enter a world governed by some very simple rules. Read and understand the following concepts.
Is sponsorship about who you know?
No, it's about whom you get to know, and putting your riding skills out in front of the right audience.
What are sponsors looking for in riders?
In general sponsors are looking look for someone that fits their brand image, to enhance the credibility of its product's (in some cases a rider is used to move the direction of a brand in to new markets). In order to achieve this they utilize the popularity of a rider, whose exposure within the media channels is of a suitable level.
Sponsors look at many aspects when sponsoring a rider such as:
1. Talent - The most overriding aspect which will decide how far a rider moves up the sponsorship ladder, simple really.
2. Age - The younger a rider is the more appealing they are to a brand
in most cases as they are able to build a long term relationship with the rider and thus the consumer is also likely to associate the rider with the brand from the start as apposed to taking them on from perhaps a competitor.
3. Exposure - Probably the second most important aspect if you are to
make it to the top rung is the level of exposure a rider achieves within the media, a portfolio gives the brand a good indication. In some cases this is the most important aspect. Basically a brand utilizes a rider to expose its name and/or product through the media. Without this a brand doesn't get a return in its investment. Core exposure is key for credibility, where mainstream exposure reaches a far broader audience offering a greater return in investment e.g. Full page in Snowboard UK (30,000* circulation) = ?1,500* as apposed to say Full page in FHM (400,000* circulation) = ?10,000* *approx figures
4. Results - Winners always promote a brands product to the highest level showing it to be better than its competitors. Titles are also important especially British/ European/ World Champions or winners of big events which are widely known, but predominantly within the UK market a British Champion works well within the Core and Mainstream media.
5. Activity - A busy rider generally means exposing a brand to a large audience, whether it is through media trips, events or a regular at a local slope.
6. Physical appearance - By far the most shallow is how photogenic or good looking the rider is, this becomes apparent mainly when a brand wants to promote the rider with its products close up in advertising or break into mainstream media.
7. Social appearance or behavior - A riders' image or dress sense (punk, rock, skate, techy, bad boy, clean cut etc...) as this will fit within a brands ethos. It works in both ways? having a bad boy image may suit a certain brand, where as a clean cut image fits another. But no one likes an idiot or someone who embellishes on their ability.
8. Credibility - This is based on a rider's perception by the consumer or within the industry including media channels. If you aint got it then who's going to believe what you have to say.
9. Communication skills - Again several aspects around this, such as a riders' ability to update their sponsors with activity reports and media exposure. You'd be surprised how few riders update their sponsors once a month, this kind of communication makes a sponsors life easy and enables them to assess their investment in a rider. A riders' ability to communicate with media and the contacts they have will favor a rider when dealing with sponsorship, as this shows a brand that the rider can promote its product without the brand
doing the leg work. Another aspect of communication that works in favor of a rider is their ability to project a good impression within the media or in public e.g. if someone is comfortable in front of a TV camera and have something substantial, credible or informative to say then your more likely to get the interview, same goes for magazine interviews. (The last 2 points in this section are key when a sponsor utilizes ambassadors to promote their product e.g. presenters, MC's or verbal figure heads)
10. Loyalty - Riders who have a long history generally have a track record which sponsors will look at. It can be many things such as loyalty to a previous brand, which means any investment a brand puts into a rider then they can be assured by level of return. It can also be difficult for a brand to sponsor a rider who has had a long term relationship with a competitive brand as it takes a while to promote the rider with a new product, it can also be a scoop!
11. Other skills - Any rider who has other interests or skills will always assist a rider getting sponsorship as it broadens the appeal, so snowboarders that can e.g. skate, surf, BMX, DJ, MC, write or have artistic skills will always provide other avenues for the sponsors to utilize its rider and further promote the brand. The classic surf brands such as Billabong, Quiksilver or O'Neill will utilize riders that crossover into skate, surf or BMX to get across the image of being a freesports brand. Riders that DJ or MC will always be in the public eye and thus be a focal point promoting the brand.
What levels of sponsorship is there?
There are several levels that have the word sponsorship associated with them and only a few which give a rider the right to call themselves a Pro Rider (although this name can be contested in individual cases) So starting at the beginning:
1. Trade deal - Quite possibly the most basic sponsorship deal where a rider usually contacts a brand or distributor direct for sponsorship. Usually for rising stars, local ambassadors, and instructors with credibility.
Sponsor expectations (from a rider): Stickers on the snowboard, Local competition wins, regular appearances at the local slopes, visits to national events, positive promotion of the brand and the odd picture in magazines.
Rider expectations (from a sponsor): Cheap product at trade value (same price the shop buys it for) and the beginning of a relationship with a brand.
2. Shop sponsor - Usually the starting point for many riders is getting the local shop to give a rider cheap or free product. This is usually most effective where a local rider is the hot shot or rising star also applicable to instructors and local ambassadors. Brands sometimes offer the shops special prices on product to pass onto the rider. This is a great way to start out as unlike a trade deal when it's usually the rider contacting the brand direct; the rider has a referee to promote the rider to the brand giving a more credible perspective.
Sponsor expectations: Same as Trade deal with main focus within shop area. The rider will also be expected to promote the shop in a positive manner encouraging people to purchase products from its store(s).
Rider expectations: Limited free product from a variation of brands, and possibly a little cash for entry's or road trips.
3. National Team Rider (Product only) - Dealing direct with the UK distributor or UK agency who provide free product. Depending on the level of exposure from the rider will greatly depend on the expectations below.
Sponsor expectations: As Shop/ Trade but the rider will also be expected to promote the brand through pictures in Core Snowboard publications. Also expected to be a prominent rider at events with possible top 3 results.
Rider expectations: More free product than Shop but from a single of brand in that sector e.g. 2-3 Snowboards, 1-4 jackets, 1-3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of boots etc. during a year. Some money for entry's or road trips.
4. National Pro Team Rider (Product & Cash) - As product only deal above but with a higher level of support from the brand. A contract is usually introduced at this stage for any period from 1-3 years. This section is also by far the most varied and fluctuates massively depending on the level of rider.
Sponsor expectations: As Shop/ Trade & Product only but the rider will also be expected to promote the brand through all media channels. Expected to be a dominant rider at events with possible wins or strong presence in UK snowboard videos or regular presence in core magazines. Usage of name and image within press releases, advertising campaigns etc.
Rider expectations: Similar if not more free product than a product only deal. Cash, this where it gets very different depending on individual brands and level of exposure achieved by the rider. Several ways in which sponsors pay riders cash, is generally the stage they are at within this category. The following sections below are sometimes mixed together or just on their own:
Incentives, this is usually the first step and a safe bet for a sponsor because they pay a rider for the coverage and/ or results they achieve. Usually this has a limit (to fit within the brands budgets) Travel Budget or lump sum, is a slightly less guaranteed way of seeing a return on a sponsors investment, but as a rider you would be given a set budget for the year used for specific events, trips, photo shoots etc. a sponsor may pay and organize the travel or you maybe required to supply receipts of travel for reimbursement after prearranging that the sponsor will pay for the expenses. A travel budget encourages you as a rider to travel and broaden your exposure. Typically a sponsor will pay for trips with a magazine where the mag is guaranteeing
e.g. 5 page article about 4 riders on a trip to Spain. Sponsors are likely to pay a lump sum for e.g. season lift pass, season accommodation or travel to the rider's season destination. Retainers, this is the level I would feel comfortable saying that a rider is a "National Pro Rider" because a sponsor will pay the rider a) a regular payment or b) a sizeable sum, based on a rider having proved their ability to generate exposure consistently throughout previous years.
5. International Team Rider - Using the same principals as a National Pro Team Rider, but on an international stage. There is some variations to this category because brands have a tiered system within international teams such as Rookie, B, A, Pro or even through different continents, this is most apparent within the big global brands like Burton. The above teams break down very similarly to those on a national sponsorship level and as such so does the amount of money a sponsor will pay.
Sponsor expectations: As with National Pro Rider, but the rider should generate exposure throughout many different country's, help develop product, win or place in the top 3 at international events, having a section in a fairly mainstream video release, interviews in magazines etc.
Rider expectations: Almost unlimited product maybe even a pro model with royalties, larger sums of money and support through times when an injury may interrupt a riders' season. Also expect a contract for at least 2 years.
6. Legend - Dream on? the world is your oyster at this level, including sections in MTV's Cribs, your own video, video game, celeb status?
OK, I understand what my responsibilities will be as a sponsored rider are. Now I choose which type of rider I will focus on.
Not many riders solely fit into one specific category below, because if you win a competition then you are likely to deal with the media so it just gives you an idea of the main routes which help support your sponsorship.
1. Media - The UK has such a large media audience so many riders choose to work with magazines. This means being the subject of the photographs in the mags, in effect, the stuntmen and women who make up the aspirational pages of the magazines. This kind of work gives the rider the most freedom with least pressure, because at the end of the day its just pictures and road trips? nice life but it won't take you to the top.
2. Competition - People will question this avenue, but if you look at the history surrounding competitions, they provide a launch pad for riders to get themselves noticed on what ever level, there is obviously a few exceptions (try naming someone that hasn't competed and made it to the big time!). There are many different types of riding and even more types of competitions, but simply on an international scale you have World Cups & Olympics seen possibly as the main type of competitive event due to the nature of the way they are run and the parallels with other sports. This avenue relies heavily on the talent of a rider and the commitment they give to becoming the best, but if you make it to the top of the podium then the rewards are big. Other competitions such as the Ticket To Ride series primarily run by riders for riders usually offer great media exposure within core press as they are seen to be supporting the riders' & consumer needs with a variety of interesting formats allowing a greater freedom for expression mirroring the ethos behind snowboarding.
3. Video - The best representation a rider can get of their ability is through TV and video's because pictures can lie? did he land it? And results can sometimes not have the credibility without a top field (think about 1998 Olympics when Terje didn't compete, when he was pretty much unbeatable at the time). So filming a 1-2minute long video section for international rider can take all season and require a lot of travel and patience to make it standout.
Snowboard movies are one of the most powerful mediums that brands can use to promote their products and the association with the best riders, sections or videos is big business. So for those riders at the top, it offers big rewards along with the respect from the snowboard industry and riders making this possibly one of the ultimate achievements. Let's face it video's are played in pretty much every snowboard shop and most people can remember a riders section or video which has influenced them no matter what level your at.
How Snowboard Magazine's work for exposure
1. How does a rider get pictures in the magazines?
The quality of the shot is the most important thing, if it's not in focus then it won't be published, so working with a competent photographer is important. It's also important to wear colours which stand out in the environment your riding, otherwise the pictures are less likely to be used. Take a look through a magazine and imagine a rider wearing an all black outfit and see if the picture would have the same impact. Ask this to any picture editor and they will tell you it has a massive impact on photo choice. You might look super dope in your new camo puffer but don?t go for a photo shoot in the trees wearing it. Camouflage works! On the same theme wearing contrasting jackets and pants can help differentiate between your arms and legs in a photo,. If you've got a board bending grab on you then don't camouflage it by wearing gloves the same colour as your board base.
2. How does a rider get on the Road Trips? Magazines tend to take established riders who have a track record of delivering good results, that is to say, consistent riding skills who are also competent travelers and can pay their way. To get into this seemingly closed circle, riders need to establish themselves on the contest circuit. Just being a good rider doesn?t necessarily lead to invites on magazine road trips. There are so many good riders these days that unless you make yourself known to magazines they're not just going to suddenly decide that you deserve coverage. Get to know the magazine photographers and editors. Express an interest in working with them, let them know what you're up to during the winter. Basically communicate with them and help them to help you.
3. How does a rider get an Interviews/ Checkouts? With consistent results and photo coverage, magazines will start to show an interest in certain riders. Again though you've got to help the mags to help you. If you get a reputation as being disorganised, late for photo shoots, never turn up with a shovel for a kicker session and never answer your emails then forget about it. Very few riders will become regular features in the media based on their riding skills alone. If you're not the next Terje then you're going to have to work hard for every scrap of coverage. Magazine coverage and the ensuing sponsorship deals aren't your birth right just because you?re the sickest hucker in town. Bottom line is that in such a highly competitive market which spawns so many talented riders, magazines just don't need your sorry ass to help shift mags from the news stands. On the other hand as a rider you're going to need all the help you can get to survive in the sponsorship jungle.
How much can a rider earn?
I?m not about to give you figures because every rider is different, so take this section as a VERY rough guide. The following is based on the total income from core sponsorship and broken down into approx percentages: Apparel 50%, Boards 20%, Eyewear 20%, Foot wear 5%, Misc 5%. A single corporate brand would/ should pay anything upwards of the apparel income.
Too many sponsors
Having too many sponsors (core and corporate) can be a bad thing as it dilutes each brands association with the rider, yet being tied to one brand can limit the rider, so what's best?
Well it's difficult to say, very few core brands offer product that will totally kit out a rider e.g. The Burton Company can provide the lot Board, Boots, Binding, Apparel, Eyewear (Anon), Footwear (Gravis) and Protection (R.E.D). Whilst this makes life easy it also means the rider is in the hands of one brand and it can be down to them as to how much exposure and support they give a rider.
So if a rider is going to have more than one sponsor what's a good figure to work with? Well if a rider can tie all their core sponsorship up with 3 or 4 brands then it will make life easier giving a good focused return on the brands, plus the rider will have 3 company?s supporting them. 1 brand for Board/Binding/Boots, 1 for Apparel and 1 for Eyewear. Having several brands supporting a rider can open up many different avenues, think about it. imagine having 2 or 3 adverts of a single rider within a magazine each supporting one another's brands, this gives each brand 3 pages for the price of 1 without diluting the association with the rider too much.
Too many sponsors and each just gets lost within one an other, no one stands out and the result is a weak association e.g. A sponsor for each product: Board, Boots, Bindings, Shoes, Technical Apparel, Casual Apparel, Eyewear, Luggage, Protection, that makes 10 for starters.
What to look for in a sponsor?
1. Product, if it doesn't work for you then it wont help you ride to your best ability, nor will you be able to promote it in a positive light.
2. History, this helps when looking back at what a brand has done in the past and where you can see their future.
3. Existing team riders gives an idea of how supportive a team is by the level of rider already in the team.
4. Development, within a team is really important within sponsorship if you have long term goals to make it to the top. A sponsor with a clear pathway for rider development encourages a rider to move up the ranks (think about any job, promotion is a perk most people are working towards no different in sponsorship).
5. People, are important, you need to get on with the people who work for the brand and the team manager for it to work.
6. Support from a sponsor to help a rider develop is essential, not only providing product and cash, a rider needs support through advertising and given opportunity's to work with new photographers, filmers and even getting placements within invitational comps etc.
7. Loyalty works both ways, if a rider supports a brand for a long time then this bodes well for both the brand and the rider, so finding the right brand is important.
Is the UK scene unique?
Very much so, we only have dryslopes (approx 80), indoor slopes (3) and small mountain resorts (approx 4), yet we have 3 UK specialist snowboard magazines, about 4 ski & snowboard magazines and several crossover magazines which if you put all this together with the majority of mainstream publications being based in London you have a huge amount of media to work with.
If you compare this with a country surrounded by mountains like Switzerland which has produced many international riders such as Nicole Angelrath, Gian Simmen, Fabien Roher, Romain de Marchi, Reto Lamm, Tina Birbuam and the list goes on, doesn't even have a snowboard magazine designated to its scene, it does how ever have a couple of crossover magazines, but nothing close to the UK media level.
The UK scene has to support a large media audience, which require plenty of images and as such UK brands can sponsor a lot more riders than in other country's. This has the effect of quantity over quality especially considering our limited resources. Many UK people are confused about what sponsorship is in the UK and the different levels. It's also true to say that UK riders get more sponsorship support on a national level than many other countries.
Parents read here
Snowboarding in the UK (and world) is still a relatively young sport and it's only in the past 5 years that product has really been produced for kids under 15. As such there hasn't been a huge amount of kids in the sport and thus being sponsored.
You'll notice above that youngsters are what sponsors are generally looking for but it's VERY important that parents don't become pushy with their kids to achieve sponsorship. I know its expensive supporting their hobbies and every bit helps, but it's important that they don't get pushed into it. In many cases sending off proposals to all the company's selling your kids talent isn't great. The brands don't usually appreciate it because they will see you as being pushy parents, and sponsors don't like dealing with parents for this very reason, as they always think that their kid is the best or should get more than the next kid. The section above explains what a unique scene we have in the UK, so on this basis we are very lucky. If a kid is good enough then they will be approached, this is by far the best way to get along with sponsorship.
Regardless of all this, kids under the age of 12 or 13 are really too young to be sponsored above the 'Shop Sponsorship' level. As they have full time education to think about and as such don't get away very much on snow and as a parent you should be encouraging them to finish their education, because no matter what they do this is the most important thing.
Once they get to the age of 14/15/16 and are showing a real potential then the best route is through competitions and the odd trip abroad in the school holidays.
At the end of the day a kid will probably get bored of something which their parents push them into so best leave it to them to make their own way (obviously with a GUIDING hand).
Don?t get me wrong here, without your support many kids would never achieve anything like their potential, so continuing to be supportive is great and keeping a kids cockyness down to a reasonable level is always welcomed (no one likes a big head)
Stuart Brass - Credentials
I have snowboarded since 1990 during which time I have had over 400 pictures published within all the core UK magazines and International magazines such as Onboard, Freestyler and Transworld. Video parts in several mid 90's releases such as Day Tripper, Still Trippin and Odd Man Out (including the front cover). Become British Big Air & Halfpipe Champion in 1997 & 98 respectively, Vice President of the British Snowboard Association, Selection committee member of Snowsport GB, Team manager of Salomon Snowboards (including international team rider) Past and present sponsors include Burton, Salomon, Volcom, Bonfire, Reef Brazil, Arnet, Oakley, The Snowboard Asylum, Bud Ice and Casio G-Shock.
In 1999 I started Soul Sports, a web based agency for UK riders & Event Management Company, running events such as the Union Awards, AIM Series and British Championships since 2002 plus sourcing sponsorship for athletes like Jenny Jones, Johno Verity, Danny Wheeler, Simon Brass, Elliot Neave, James Stentiford, Juliet Elliot, Scott Mcmorris and Laura Berry amongst many others, visit www.soulsports.co.uk or www.snowboardclub.co.uk or www.aimseries.com for more information.
If you're interested in becoming a Snowboarder why not read out expert opinion with founder of Soul Sports Stuart Brass:
Expert Opinion with Stuart Brass